Do you remember your first real payday? The work leading up to it probably (hopefully) involved some kind of learning experience and skills acquired, but probably didn’t teach you event planning and production, marketing, and audience engagement, plus offer professional development opportunities in group consensus, time and budget management, meeting facilitation, and leadership style.
But 15 Los Angeles County high school students in Center Theatre Group’s Student Ambassador Program this spring got all this and more—including a stipend. Over the course of 60 hours, they planned, produced, and marketed a Youth Summit for 50 of their peers (anchored by the Taper production of Lackawanna Blues) alongside theatre professionals, who shared their arts management philosophies and abilities.
“This is a unique opportunity that gives you the chance to meet amazing people, improve skills, and discover a new side of yourself,” said Ambassador Andy V.
Added Ambassador Christopher J., “We not only got to plan a Youth Summit—but to meet so many new people, go to different events, and gain more connections than we may have had before the program. This program, along with other things in my life this past year, has changed me as a person drastically, and I cannot be more grateful.”
The Student Ambassador Program is unlike most pre-professional arts training in its emphasis on management and leadership; students don’t need to have any theatre experience to participate, just an enthusiasm for the arts and a desire to grow. “This comes down to how Center Theatre Group is investing in the next generation of arts professionals,” said Emerging Artists and Arts Professionals Program Manager Felipe M. Sanchez. “Who is going to manage our theatre? Who is going to market our art? Who will be the advocates for seeing theatre in our communities?”
Hopefully the Ambassadors will do all this. But ultimately, they “learn skills they can translate into any field,” said Sanchez. So while the experience led up to the Youth Summit—a hugely successful evening of theatre engagement activities—the culminating celebration was about the students creating leadership manifestos:
“I am a leader who believes that everyone has a voice and deserves to be heard,” wrote Ambassador Sherry I.
“I will always be an advocate for those who are in need, those who can’t eat or sleep under a roof, those who need to realize that harm they’ve caused to another. But most importantly, those who are in need of peace,” wrote Ambassador Julian M.
“I promise to keep finding my voice,” wrote Ambassador Adam C.
“I am a leader who believes in everyone, and that everyone has potential to be who they want to be,” wrote Ambassador Jessica C.
Sanchez is confident that the students will live up to their manifestos, and more. “I truly believe they are going to come out ahead, as stronger and better leaders, by having this experience at an early age and being able to take that to college and beyond,” he said.